Expert of the Week   for  10 - 16 Nov 2014

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Melisa Bodenhamer-Lindros

Childfund International Expertise:  Develop and manage contextually relevant end-to-end systems for strengthening disaster risk reduction (DRR) and emergency preparedness work within large, complex international agencies. This includes strengthening disaster risk governance; designing and implementing solutions to develop capacities in technical specialists and operational teams; building multi-stakeholder partnerships; and global-level policy and advocacy work. I also enjoy partnering with national actors to realize their visions to become game changers within their spheres of influence - in preparedness, DRR and resilience.

I have worked since 1993 to create social change within communities, governments, and international organizations to reduce poverty and build community resilience to disasters. I am married and live with my husband and daughter in Southern California.

From Disaster Readiness to Disaster Resilience: Taking an Integrated and Transformative Approach to Reducing Vulnerability and Building Resilience When Disasters are the “New Normal”

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QQuestion by Ms Marilise Turnbull

Hi Melisa,

I know you have a lot of experience in this field. If disasters are the 'new normal', what would it take for building resilience to be the 'new normal'? Can you give us some guidance to use at community, local and national levels, as well as for organisations working on resilience. What do development and humanitarian organisations need to change to adapt to this 'new normal'?

Ms Marilise Turnbull Consultant | Independent

APosted on 16 Nov 2014

Dear Marilise,

You always ask excellent and though-provoking questions. Thank you.

First I believe that there will be increasing demand in the future for institutions, models and approaches capable of handling high degrees of complexity. Increasing uncertainty is implicit within this notion of complexity. This complexity includes changes in the global risk ‘landscape’ such as increasing scale and frequency of disasters, increasing exposure to risk and numbers of people being affected by disasters; changes in drivers of risk and how these affect and increase vulnerability of local communities, children and youth and other segments of the population; and changes in the humanitarian arena including ways of working and financing streams.  

DRR can hence be strengthened through a systems-based approach. As has been seen especially in the disasters of the past year risk has a trans-boundary nature. There is a need to look at risk in a more interconnected way, emphasizing how we address the underlying drivers of risk due to factors such as environmental degradation, climate change, urbanization and global supply chains. Further it will be important to ‘root’ the DRR and its outcomes within the dynamic systems that influence and enable them. For example, we know that DRR has a mutually synergistic relationship with good governance. Yet have we considered before planning DRR interventions precisely how they may further governance systems within a given context? It could be said that DRR and good governance are not only mutually synergistic, but they are also mutually interdependent. These interdependencies need to be factored into our DRR planning. This is moving beyond mainstreaming to working consistently in a more inter-connected way, following the trans-boundary nature of risk and growing complexity described above.

Let us take as one example the current Ebola crisis in West Africa. We could equally consider the Haiti crisis or Super-Typhoon Haiyan. In these examples a disaster ‘event’ has taken deep tolls in human lives; livelihoods, economy, natural environment, protective social systems and many other aspects of life. But what further exacerbates the intensity of Ebola Virus Disease is that it in a sense ‘peeled back the layers’ on systems which were weak and failing.  This reveals the underlying, central problem of vulnerability which the Hyogo Framework highlights.  However as Joanne Burke at Kings College reminds us, despite calls to bridge the artificial divide between disasters and development and having resilience serve as the paradigm to support that shift, this has yet to translate into practice. This is certainly the case concerning the ‘deeper’, underlying issues behind vulnerability, often rooted in the political economy. If this type of scenario does define ‘the new normal’, then an integrated, ‘ongoing’ form of systems-based DRR is crucial not only to protect development outcomes and build resilience but also to assist an increasing number of people with the tools needed for basic survival.

The scale of losses and human tolls on the ground demands strengthened preparedness, prevention and a scale-up in systematic, strategic investments in capacity development at all levels. Joanne Burke states that this suggests that those who engage in disasters and emergencies need to demonstrate capabilities for the assessment and anticipation of risk in a far more interconnected way. Certainly, risk assessment as ‘a foundation of strong DRR initiatives’ must adapt to this context of increasing complexity. Further, they will need to develop capabilities in adaptation and agility in order to deal with a more complex and unpredictable disaster context.

International as well as national non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have a critical role helping facilitate multi-stakeholder partnerships and linkages between the different levels. “New” actors including the private sector and Diasporas can help ‘traditional’ humanitarian actors augment their capacity to deal with an increasingly challenging workload. There will be a greater need for a cadre of people who are experienced in resilience partnerships and able to translate the domains of public, private and non-profit into shared messaging, values and action to build resilience. Newer actors in the DRR arena may not necessarily share the same motives or abide by the same principles of more established actors.

There will also be a greater need for advocacy with and on behalf of children and other people who are disproportionately affected by risk.  This includes women, people with disabilities, the elderly, and various marginalized groups. There are increasing calls around a key aspect of building capacity for future resilience – that is educating children and youth in disasters and ensuring they have an active voice in determining risk reduction measures. More work needs to be done to develop the evidence base on effective approaches to this as well as ensuring their access to basic rights including protection. New, documented ways of working are needed which lead to improved access to information needed for survival and resilience, redistribution of resources, strengthened social protection, strengthened agency in DRR policy and decision making processes, and their full engagement in resilience partnerships.  

How can organizations effectively adapt to risk in these types of contexts? What are the characteristics of organizations that can thrive in a climate of increasing complexity and risk? What are the principles of effective partnership of diverse actors in an integrated, systems-based approach to DRR? How can finance streams for this type of action be scaled up? How can we collectively deepen and nuance the discussion, towards strengthening the evidence base around what works in mitigating vulnerability within the ‘new normal’, particularly of those who are disproportionately affected by risk? These are questions for our ongoing discussions.

QQuestion by Ms Catalina Jaime

Dear Melisa, thank you so much for your comprehensive answer, its very useful. I'm very glad you mentioned some of the tools I have been using. I'm particularly pleased you mentioned Maraten Van Aalst as I worked last year with the RCCC on ClimateSmart VCA and forecast-based funding. I'm currently implementing the same in some Typhoon Haiyan affected areas. I wonder if I can contact you by email?

Ms Catalina Jaime DRR and CCA Delegate | Swiss Red Cross

APosted on 16 Nov 2014

Dear Ms. Catalina,

Thank you very much for your message. I am glad that our discussion has been useful to you. Thanks also for sharing your experience working on climate smart VCA and forecast-based funding. This is very interesting to me. I have just sent you a message and you are welcome to contact me at I will be glad to hear from you.

Warm regards,

QQuestion by Ms Luz Amparo Osorio

How can we measure progress about DRM?
Can we use a easy methodology for Impact Evaluation? I need practice information for economic, environmental and social impact evaluation in a Disaster Risk Project. Thank you so much

Ms Luz Amparo Osorio Consultora | REDLAC

APosted on 15 Nov 2014

Dear Ms. Luz Amparo Osorio,

Thank you for your excellent and complex question. The area of monitoring and evaluation of progress of DRR is a central theme of discussion in the Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and one that has occupied the DRR community for some time.

Your question addresses the 'core' of DRR, and its rationale; to reduce risk of disasters and protect development gains. Progress of DRR interventions should be 'measurable' in sustainable development, and yet, it remains a challenging area of DRR.

One of the most practice tools that I continue to return to is Charlotte Benson and John Twigg's "Tools for Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Reduction: Guidance Notes for Development Organizations"  ( I think you will find this tool very useful. Chapter 7 focuses on environmental assessment, chapter 8 economic analysis, and chapter 11 social impact assessment.

For a general treatment of social impact assessment and disaster risk reduction, Steven Silvern and Steven Young's book "Environmental Change and Sustainability" is very helpful, especially the "Disaster Risk Management and Social Impact Assessment: Understanding Preparedness, Response and Recovery in Community Projects" chapter by Raheem A. Usman, et al. (

If the Disaster Risk Reduction project focuses on the recovery and reconstruction phase, you may find the work of the World Bank Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) helpful. The GFDRR gave an excellent presentation at their September 2014 2nd World Reconstruction Conference. The presentation ( gives a great overview on Monitoring and Evaluation of Disaster Recovery and Reduction.

Regarding monitoring the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action by a new set of outcome and output indicators, which could include economic and other kinds of loss and damage, environmental degradation, and various social metrics, please take a look at this emerging work ( The work is now being pilot tested in selected countries, in preparation for the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction to be held 14-18 March in Sendai, Japan.

Finally, a very interesting, recent work examines the interplay between social protection programs and climate / disaster shocks, presenting key elements of an M & E system. This is Rachel Cipryk and Mirey Ovadiya's World Bank Technical Note ( I particularly liked the 'live' recent case examples used to describe how early integration of disaster and climate criteria drove changes in social protection mechanisms targeting highly vulnerable populations; and also the use of Social Impact Analysis in Post-Disaster Needs Assessment.

I hope this is helpful for you  - please check back for updates!

QQuestion by Mrs Catalina Jaime

Dear Melisa,
From your experience, I was wondering if you could share your opinion about the best modern methodology on participatory risk assessment. Which innovative methodology puts resilience and climate impacts as well as other hazards in the center of the analysis. But also that leads towards desition making by local government units.
Thanks a lot for sharing,
Best Catalina

Mrs Catalina Jaime DRR and CCA delegate | Swiss Red Cross

APosted on 13 Nov 2014

Dear Mrs. Jaime,

You ask such an important question! Thanks for asking. In fact this question was one of the most puzzling ones that we dealt with in the development and design of the Emergency Capacity Building Project's "Toward Resilience" tool ( This tool was intended as exactly as you refer - an integrated tool encompassing both DRR and climate change adaptation, which could lend itself to local decision making.

Reflecting the true diversity in approaches, a number of models were useful starting points, including the following:

  1. TearFund's CEDRA (

  2. Oxfam's Participatory Vulnerability and Capacity Analysis (

  3. Care’s Climate Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment Handbook (

  4. World Vision’s Community Owned Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment – COVACA (case study

  5. The Red Cross Vulnerability Capacity Assessment (

Additionally, the following comprehensive works of notable scholars Luca Alinovi and John Twigg have been foundational in my own thinking about resilience, its analysis and its measurement:

  1. The Resilience Analysis Model and Framework developed by Luca Alinovi at FAO ( and - a resilience framework that tries to assess the current state of health of a food system and hence its ability to withstand shocks should they occur

  2. John Twigg’s Characteristics of a Disaster Resilient Community version 1 ( and version 2 (

The rationale for participatory community risk assessments (CRA) is clear and fairly widely accepted. Communities are first responders. Strictly top-down approaches often do not reflect the specific capacities, contexts and vulnerabilities of local communities; they are also often biased towards the needs of a community rather than being grounded in community resources and strengths. The main purpose of CRA is as you say; to lead to and inform local decision making. A strong participatory CRA paints a clear picture of the nature and level of risks that vulnerable people face in a given context. It answers questions such as, where does the risk come from? What specific groups (gender, age, ethnicity, disability, health status) are affected and where are they? What patterns exist, which impact vulnerability – such as livelihoods, social fabric, community institutions, risk reduction activities and level of preparedness? It may create a ‘dynamic’ picture, showing how these patterns change over a period of time. It necessarily includes voices and perspectives of those who are the most vulnerable in the community, and it must be undertaken systematically. A strong CRA is in many ways a 'foundation' of disaster risk reduction.

Community risk assessments which local people understand and are able to use can facilitate reduction of risks and local adaptation to climate change that is focused on people’s vulnerability, livelihood, coping and adaptive capacity… and their resilience. To be meaningful on a national scale, Maarten van Aalst, Director of the Red Cross Climate Centre, Professor Terry Cannon of IDS and Ian Burton found in their 2008 study that a large number of community risk assessments would need to be undertaken. It would also be important that the information from these assessments would be scaled-up and used to ensure that barriers to adaptation and resilience (i.e. policies and activities that impede adaptation) are removed, while those ‘enablers’ (activities that promote adaptation) would be supported. Often, the process of carrying out the community risk assessment can be as important as the end product. They can engender trust, build understanding and analytical skills. They are a key part of the community organizing process.

The "Climate Smart Disaster Risk Management" of Professor Terry Cannon ( is a very practical and easy-to-use approach in helping to achieve the very thing that you are asking about, improving resilience at local and national levels within a changing climate. Professor Cannon's presentation at a recent Global Platform was a helpful overview. (

As Van Aalst et al remind us, climate change can also be integrated into CRAs by ‘making better use of CRA tools to assess trends, and by addressing the notion of changing risks.’  A key challenge however is to ‘keep CRAs simple enough for wide application. This demands special attention in the modification of CRA tools; in the background materials and trainings for CRA facilitators; and in the guidance for interpretation of CRA outcomes.’

It’s important to recall that CRA are often used to determine level of social vulnerability whereas other types of risk assessment are equally needed. It would thus be ideally integrated with assessment of other risks and threats (such as health and conflict); economic, environmental and physical risk assessment; and post-disaster needs assessment.

I would be very interested to know, in your work what methods are you using to assess climate and disaster risk? I look forward to learning about any challenges and insights you may wish to share.